Our Fantastic Mrs. Paley

November 15, 2010
By

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This past Friday, one of New York City’s most venerable cultural institutions, the 92nd Street Y (136 years strong and still kicking!) bestowed a unique honor upon one of the University of Chicago Press’s most beloved authors. In all of the years that the 92Y has been creating and playing host to vibrant lectures, readings, conferences, community service opportunities, and city-wide programming, it had yet to endow and bestow an award named after a living figure—that is, until now. Please join us in celebrating the 92Y Vivian Gussin Paley Award for Early Childhood Education and its inaugural recipient, the “playful” visionary and early childhood education pioneer, Vivian Gussin Paley.
From the 92Y’s commendation:

Vivian Gussin Paley examines children’s stories and play, their logic and their thinking, searching for meaning in the social and moral landscapes of classroom life. A kindergarten teacher for 37 years, Mrs. Paley brings her storytelling/story acting and discussion techniques to children, teachers and parents throughout the world. In addition to her direct contributions to children and teachers, she is a MacArthur fellow and recipient of numerous awards, including: the Erikson Institute Award for Service to Children (1987); American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for Lifetime Achievement (1998); the John Dewey Society’s Outstanding Achievement Award (2000); and she was named Outstanding Educator in the Language Arts by the National Council of Teachers of English (2004).

The award itself celebrates Paley’s inspirational contributions to the 92Y’s Wonderplay initiative, which includes a conference attended by more than 900 educators each year, all of whom come together to consider Wonderplay and its core values, which seek to “awaken children’s innate sense of wonder, promote self-discovery, build self-esteem, and inspire a love of learning.”
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We couldn’t imagine a more deserving recipient than Paley. We’re proud to publish five of her original books: Bad Guys Don’t Have Birthdays: Fantasy Play at Four, Boys and Girls: Superheroes in the Doll Corner, Mollie Is Three: Growing Up in School, Boy on the Beach: Building Community through Play (check out an excerpt online at the book’s UCP site), and A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play (an excerpt aimed at first-grade education available here).
Feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to begin? Have a look at Patricia M. Cooper’s The Classrooms All Young Children Need: Lessons in Teaching from Vivian Paley. Charting the change of attention paid to debates about the reduction of children’s play time, the role of race in education, and the results of No Child Left Behind, this collection of essays embraces a holistic view of Paley’s many books and articles. Here you’ll find the evolution of Paley’s thought, as well as the key characteristics of her teaching philosophy—everything from storytelling to superheroes.
In the meantime, here’s a clip from our acclaimed advocate herself, delivering a talk at the 2008 Wonderplay conference:

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